Thursday, January 31, 2013

Awesome video parody of Les Mis

I couldn't help myself, this video is amazing!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Socially Responsible travel guide to Siem Reap, Cambodia

Siem Reap, Cambodia - Ernie and Cindy's Guide
It’s one of the most charming towns on the planet if you actually spend some time with the local people of the town. We’ve heard from expats over and over “I came for a holiday and I never left.”  For Ernie and me, the town was so enticing after our first visit in 2009 that we returned in 2012 to see if we should move there and start a social enterprise to help the local community.

After only two visits, I cannot call myself an ‘expert’ in everything Siem Reap has to offer, but I can certainly share some advice on what to see, where to stay and of course, where to eat! This guide highlights (mostly) social enterprises, i.e. businesses that donate a portion or all of their profits to an NGO supporting the local Cambodian community. So not only can you get the most out of your visit, you can also give the most – with every dollar going to a good cause.

Most visitors spend 3 days/2 nights in Siem Reap. There is a whole initiative to lengthen your stay called "Stay another day" where they have much more detail on what to do if you have more time to spend in Cambodia.   It depends on what you want to see and do in the area. 3-4 full days is sufficient to get a taste of the area and catch most of the major sights. The times outlined below are in order of what we believe is priority of how you should spend your time.

1-2 Days – Grand Circuit Temples (including Angkor Wat, Ta Prom, Angkor Thom)
½ Day – Rolous Group
2 hrs – Silk Farm
½ Day – Floating Village
1 Day – Banteay Srey and Bang Melea
1 Day – Kulen Mountain
2 hrs – Landmine Musem

The Temples: Obviously, you’ve come to see the temples. 

Costs: Tickets are $20/day/person.  You can buy a 3 day pass for $40/person which is totally worth it.  I also recommend a tour guide, which is very affordable at around $20-25/day and can be hired at your hotel.  A Tuk Tuk is the best way to see everything and generally costs $15/day. Some drivers might charge you an additional $5 to go to Angkor Wat at Sunrise.  Bring or buy a scarf to wrap around your nose/mouth to prevent dust from coming up into your face. 

Grand Circuit Temples – spend a soild 1-2 days at these temples, depending how fast you can walk or how easily you can navigate through the swarms of tourists plopping on and off the tour busses.
Angkor Wat is the most famous temple and the one everyone calls the entire complex.  Many people go at sunrise to see the reflection in the pond. It’s worth it to see sunrise (and get haggled by many teenagers claiming their name is “Justin Beiber” or “Lady Gaga” to come eat breakfast at their restaurant).  My suggestion is to see the sunrise, then get the heck out of that temple so you can beat the rush to the next temple. Then come back later in the afternoon when the temple is relatively empty.
Angkor Wat, rear entry view
Angkor Thom is the next complex that contains the famous Bayon temple with all of the Buddha heads.  The victory gate into the temple is beautiful so you want to stop for photos and hear the story of the Good vs. Evil sides.
Victory Gate
Ta Phrom, famous for “Tomb Raider” is a fascinating temple because the trees have overgrown most of it. There are two sides to the temple and it’s worth looking at both sides. There’s thought that Humans and Dinosaurs lived at the same time due to a carving that can be found within the temple walls of the stegosaurus. Do you believe it to be true?
Ta Phrom

Ernie was super excited to see the dino
Ta Som is another temple with overgrown trees. I especially love the back gate of the temple for the view of the trees out of the Budda’s head. It’s worth the extra walk.
Ta Som
Other temples in the route: Pre Rup (everyone goes here for sunset, but personally, I’m not sure it’s worth the crowds), Reah Khan, Neak Pean

Additional Temples worth checking out. Ernie and I are torn on which group of temples is better. I guess it depends what you want to get out of your trip. The Rolous group Temples are in tact, fully accessible temples.  Banteay Srei is beautiful, but small on it's own. Bang Melea is in ruins, and only worth visiting if you like climing over rocks and trees.  Both sets gets you outside of town so you can see a bit of the country side.
Banteay Srei and Bang Melea
Costs: $35 for a Tuk Tuk.  Banteay Srei is included in the Temple Pass but Bang Melea is an additional $5/person.
Budget a short day trip for these two temples and the drive out to them.  Whatever you do, you must try the sticky rice/beans that the locals sell by the side of the road. It’s sweetened with palm sugar and packed into bamboo then roasted by fire.  Your Tuk Tuk driver will know where these are sold, as they are the best in the area.
A typical stand selling sticky rice
Om nom nom
Banteay Srei is also known as the “lady’s temple” and definitely in my top 3 favorite temples.  It’s made of pink sandstone and fairly quiet since not many tourists make it outside the grand circuit.
Lady's Temple
Bang Melea is also known as the “jungle temple” because you really have to be willing to climb through the jungle, step over moss and navigate through fallen stone. This temple is basically in crumbles from the old original form.  There are even ruminants of a land mine, basically a giant ditch.
The Jungle Temple
The Butterfly Garden Center is near these two temples and if you’re into it, we hear it’s nice.

             Roluos Group Temples: Bakong, Lolei and Preah Ko.
             Costs: $12 for a Tuk Tuk.  Temples are included in the Temple Pass.

Other Tourist Attractions:
Old Market
Costs: nothing except shopping and eating
You’ll be in the old market area every evening for dinner. There is an expansive day market and 4 (or more) night markets that all basically sell the same cheap stuff made in China.  Browse, bargain and take home some fun souvenirs but don’t expect high quality items from the bazaars.  Nearby brick-n-mortar shops have some better-quality items.
Kulen Mountain
Costs: $20/person, plus $40 for Tuk Tuk
Full Day trip
We didn’t go during either visit so I can’t speak from personal experience but it comes highly recommended for a day trip. You can swim in the waterfall pool and walk along the river with lingas dotting the riversides. There is also supposedly a huge lying Buddha statue in the area. I kind of wish we had gone, but it seemed like a lot of money at the time since you’re only paying $4-5 per meal. In hindsight, we probably should have done it since we had the time.
Floating Village
Costs: $15/person for boat ticket. Tuk Tuk is $11 round trip from Siem Reap.
About a half day. You’ll be on the boat for about 1.5 hrs and it’s about 30-45 min each way.
I’m torn about recommending a visit to the floating village. In its authentic state, the village is quite unique and interesting for visitors to see. But the most popular village on Tonle Sap is becoming so much of an attraction that there are many scams.  If you do decide to visit a village, take the time to go to the authentic Cambodian one. Beyond Tours (info below) can set you up, and also take you to the floating forest.
A Common Scam:  Because of the increasing desire to ‘visit an orphanage’ while traveling to a developing country, common scams are popping up all over the place. This orphan-tourism is frightening and my hope is to educate you before you go.  Most “orphans” (estimated at more than 75%) living in orphanages in Cambodia are not actually orphans. The floating village is no different. Your tour guide or boat driver might take you to a market near the ‘school’ or ‘orphanage’ and ask you to buy a bag of rice or a box of noodles to donate to the ‘school/orphanage.’ I URGE YOU to not do this! These children are actually not in school! Many of them aren’t even Cambodians! The children are taken away from their homes and kept away from school so you (with your good intentions) can come by and drop off food that you buy from the market. They’ll take you on a tour of the ‘school’ showing you where food is cooked, where the kids play and you can even take a photo with the children.  Then they will sell the food back to the market (with the market taking a cut of the profits) and the market will resell to the next good-intentioned tourist.  The negative impact to the community is increasing – fewer children going to school, keeping them in poverty, and they’re not even getting fed.  The mafia wins and puts cash in their pockets.  We were stupid. And we were scammed.  Please be warned.
Avoid: Don’t give the snake-kids money.  Again, these children are kept away from school because they can earn much more money by begging for $1 for you to look at or take a photo with their snakes. These kids are all over the place. The parents take the money and many go off to drink and gamble, leaving their children at home starving.  Education is what can help these kids out of poverty but the more tourists that give them money; the less likely they are to go to school.
This is us after we got scammed. We felt so good about our 'giving' until we later learned the truth about it all.
Angkor Silk Farm
Pouk District (20 minutes from Siem Reap)
Open daily 8am-5pm

Costs: $10 for Tuk Tuk. Free shuttle departs from Artisans Angkor main showroom on Stung Thmey Street at 9:30am and 1:20pm.  Entry is free but you might be enticed to buy something in their air-conditioned shop.
Silk Worm Cocoons
Free guided tours of the entire process to make silk, starting from the mulberry bushes that the worms feed on, all the way through the dying and weaving processes.  It sounds a little boring, but actually it’s quite an interesting and intricate process to creating the silk we love to wear.  You’ll spend about an hour here looking at live silkworms (you can see them mate!) and being mesmerized by the dying and weaving process.  There’s also an ice cream shop on site for a cool break after your visit.
Lady Ga Ga's Dress from a concert in Cambodia! Made out of silk worm cocoons.
Landmine Museum Costs: $3/person donation requested (required?). $15 for Tuk Tuk round trip.
Aki Ra's CNN Hero Award on display at the Landmine Museum
The Landmine Museum was founded by a former Khmer Rouge child soldier, Aki Ra, also a CNN Hero.  Visit the website or even the museum to hear his incredible story. The museum is not large and displays thousands of mines Aki Ra and his late wife recovered from the killing fields. He lives on site with his 3 children along with an entire center of children who are either landmine victims, polio victims or children of landmine victims who can no longer be supported by their natural parents. You won’t be able to access the children’s living area but you might catch a glimpse of them playing volleyball behind the museum.  The Landmine Museum helps support education for these children by providing school supplies, uniforms and extra school fees. Jill and Bill, a married American couple, run the museum and will likely be one of your tour guides. They work with Project Enlighten who provides university scholarships for several students from the center.

Beyond Tours is owned by married Australians, Anthony and Fiona, who also own Sojourn Boutique Hotel (see below) and several other socially responsible businesses.  They offer a variety of responsible tourism tours including the Main Temples, Beng Melea, and the Floating Village. You can also get a unique experience through the “Day in the Life” Tour $32/person, Cambodian Cooking Classes $35/full day, $22/half day or several Cycling Tours.

Originally founded by Daniela from the US, the team is now led by an outgoing mix of Westerners and Cambodians.  They offer several adventures from a custom built itinerary, to the three week bike ride across Cambodia, PEPY Ride! Their blog is worthwhile reading and you’re bound to learn much about Cambodia, Social Enterprises and Responsible Tourism.  We love the whole team at PEPY Tours and PEPY NGO! They were so hospitable and welcoming during our visit!

Low: Seven CandlesGuest House
Rates: $20 for double occupancy
Wat Bo Area:
307 Wat Bo Road
Breakfast not included, Free Wi Fi. Toiletries not included so bring your own soap/shampoo. There is no safe in the rooms, but there are keys to the old wooden desks.

Seven Candles is owned by Ponheary Ly and her family. Ponheary is a recipient of the CNN Hero award for her work in the local community where she makes it possible for hundreds of children to go to school who can’t afford uniforms, books and school fees.  The entire family, 3 generations, lives at the guest house and several can be hired as tour guides for the temples and surrounding areas.  Lori Carlson from Texas also lives on site and heads up The Ponheary Ly Foundation and is the author of humorous reading materials found in your room. Ponheary’s story is amazing and if you have a moment to sit with her, you’ll be inspired by how she has lived her life.

Medium: Soria Moria
Rates: $40-65/night
Wat Bo Area
Buffet Breakfast included, Free Wi Fi, Hot tub on Roof, New small swimming pool, Tuk Tuk pickup from Airport.

Rooms are large with tile flooring and western style bathrooms.  Fridge, TV and Air Conditioning in room. 

Ken and Kristin are the Norwegian owners/founders of Soria Moria and are heavily involved in the Responsible Tourism initiative in Siem Reap.  Soria Moria employs many trainees from the major hospitality schools in the area. They have also recently turned over 51% ownership to the staff, a very innovative approach in the local area. Each staff member shares in the profits and is dedicated to providing you with great service.  Ken also heads up a local NGO called NEDO (Norwegian Educational Development Organisation). As revenue streams in addition to Soria Moria, Ken also founded White Bicycles where you can rent bicycles from several hotels/guest houses for $2/day, and Love Cards which are handmade greeting cards by Cambodians.

Also, Wednesday nights are $1 tapas at Soria Moria! It’s very popular among expats so a reservation is necessary.

High: Sojourn
Rates: $110 for terrace rooms; $180-190 for private villas
Treak Village
Buffet & Menu Breakfast included, Saltwater pool with swim up bar, Car pickup/drop off from Airport

Sojourn means ‘a short stay’ and is owned and operated by Australians Anthony and his wife, Fiona, who also own several other socially responsible operations in town, including Beyond Tours (tour agency), HUSK (trash collection, property rebuilding), Wild Poppy Boutique (clothing shop) and Softies (plush toys).  Sojourn is a short ride away from the town center and hidden in the local Treak Village. You’ll see HUSK trash collection bins along the route.  Several staff members come from the local hospitality training schools and are sponsored by EGBOK Mission (, an NGO supporting underprivileged young adults and connecting them to employment opportunities in the hospitality industry.  Products in the room are made by Sentaurs D’Angkor

The restaurant at the hotel serves IBIS Rice and is absolutely amazing with a full breakfast fruit & pastry spread in addition to an ordered menu item.  Stay in one (or two) nights for dinner and you won’t be disappointed!  The swim-up pool bar has happy hour every day and a variety of delicious cocktails.
Saltwater pool
Black concrete bathrooms, modern & sleek!
Luxury: Shinta Mani
Rates: $210-250/night
French Quarter
Free WiFi, Pool, free fruit, airport pick up for $10 USD

Luxurious rooms with wall-mounted TV’s iPod Docks, bathrobes and slippers.  Décor is very modern and minimalist with clean lines and splashes of bold colors.  We didn’t stay overnight here, but we stopped for lunch in their air conditioned restaurant (a rare gem).  The food was delicious, a little higher priced than in town, but worth the additional trip to sit in AC and relax after a hot morning out on the tourist route. The outdoor bar area has beds suspended from the ceiling where you can eat breakfast, lunch or dinner in bed!  Shinta Mani funds the Shinta Mani Foundation which helps to lift individuals in local villages out of poverty through development programs and basic assistance like water wells, housing and school materials.

Lunch in bed?
Swimming Pool

·      Haven
Sok San Street, 20m past X-Bar on the right
Hours: Mon-Saturday 11am-9:30pm, closed Sundays.

Haven is run by 2 Swiss women who opened the trendy restaurant in December 2011. It serves as a training restaurant for young adults ‘orphans’ (orphans, lost 1 parent, or abandoned children) who have out grown their orphan centers and have no place to go.  Training is free for the students.  The restaurant is clean, modern and is open air seating. The staff is very friendly and all smiles and the food is quite delicious! Average prices are slightly higher, about $1-2, compared to Cambodian run restaurants, but for an extra buck, you are helping to provide a job to a young adult who may not have had a hand up otherwise.

·       Green Star
South end of Wat Bo Road (literally at the T Intersection)
Closed Sundays

If there’s only one Cambodian Restaurant you pick, this one should be it. A not-for-profit restaurant run by Doug and Avee that fully supports the Green Gecko Project, an incredible children’s center founded by Tanya. Doug comes from Australia and fell in love with Cambodia, later deciding to retire and move to Siem Reap. He then met Avee, the brains behind Green Star and an amazing chef.  We let Avee bring us whatever food she was cooking up that day and the food did NOT disappoint! Some recommendations are: Tasty Corn Kernels, Spicy Fried Egg Plant with Pork, Green Star Sliced Beef (try the Kampot Pepper and lime dipping sauce!) and the Stuffed Chicken Wings (not on the menu but an absolute must). For dessert, Avee cooked up cinnamon apples in a wonton skin, I can’t remember the name of the dish, but even I who is allergic to gluten, craved this dessert for days after trying a small bite. Doug and Avee spent two nights chatting with us and sharing their story.

·       Joe-to-Go
       Located on North/West of Old Market behind the Central Café
Open 7am-9:30pm everyday

Joe-to-Go is small comfortable restaurant where you can get classic Khmer dishes such as Amok Chicken or Fried Rice. There’s also a variety of western dishes.  Stop in for a quick snack or a full meal.  The Mint Lemonade is wonderfully refreshing. Proceeds from both the downstairs restaurant and the upstairs fashion boutique Beau Fou support The Global Child Project, an NGO focusing on providing education to underprivileged children.

·         Viva (Mexican)
       Located in the Old Market
It’s the only non-social-enterprise restaurant on my list. Everyone says it’s the ‘best Mexican’ in Siem Reap… which you should take with a grain of salt since it’s Mexican Food in Cambodia. We usually like to eat local foods when we travel, but our 2nd trip to Siem Reap was 2 weeks long and we were craving Mexican.  The food is actually not too bad!  Handmade corn tortillas, nicely marinated meats and of course crunchy tortilla chips are all we need to go along with our margaritas! So if you need a break from Asian food, and you have a craving for Mexican Viva will not disappoint.

Others that we tried to visit, but didn't make it to:

·      Le Café at Paul DeBrule Located at the French Cultural Center in Wat Bo Area
Monday-Saturday 7:30am-8pm
The premier hospitality school in Siem Reap. They have a restaurant on their campus where students train in cooking, serving and hosting guests.

·       Sala Bai
155 Phoum Tapoul, Near the new Park Hyatt (formerly the Hotel de la Paix)
Breakfast 7-9am, Lunch 12-2pm Monday-Friday. Closed evenings, weekends and public holidays
Reservations Required
The other premier hospitality school. Proceeds contribute to the Sala Bai training project.
Coming Soon: Where to shop!

A note on tipping: Tipping is not customary in Cambodia. Locals generally round up to the next even dollar.  But if you are happy with the service, tipping is highly encouraged.  Remember that many Cambodians living in the town only make about $50/month, which many Americans will spend on one meal. So while $2 or even $10 is extra change to you, it makes a significant difference for the people serving you.  They have worked hard for you and are not begging on the street so please show respect as they have shown to you. 
Common Scams: I hate to even say there are scams in the area because we love Siem Reap so much.  Generally, Siem Reap is a pretty safe town and the people are friendly. But with the increase of Tourism over the past several years attracts common tourist scams.
·       Street Beggars: Like any developing country, there are many people living below the poverty line. In Cambodia, 78% are in deep poverty on less than $2/day.  It’s no secret that you are bound to see a few hard-up people while visiting Siem Reap.  I caution you, however, and plead with you to not give money to street beggars – adult or children.  Some of the beggars in Siem Reap are very sophisticated. They rent babies to carry around and will ask you to buy them milk or diapers from the store. Once you are out of eyesight, the woman returns the milk to the store, receiving some cash while the store takes their healthy profit. After turning a few of these tricks, she returns the baby to their family and pockets the cash. These people are not contributing members of the society but are leeching off the goodness of your heart. 

Daniela from PEPY says it best when she calls this “voting with your money.” Do you want more kids on the street begging? Then give them your money and you are voting to keep the child on the street and not in school.  It’s just the same as when you buy your favorite laundry detergent at home – you’re voting to keep that brand on the shelf. 

We heard a story that a street kid, missing one leg as a victim of a land mine, would sell small items for $1. You probably don’t need the book or the 10 bracelets that you just traded your dollar for, but you want to help the kid out, right? Wrong. This kid was making $1000/month selling on the streets! Think about this and compare it to your average hotel staff that makes $60/month as a trainee or $100/month as a manager.  The kid takes home that money to whoever is ‘managing’ him and usually walks away with little to nothing: no food, no clothes, no clean home to live in.  Just say “day ah koon”, which means “no thank you” and they will generally walk away.
·       Orphanages: More than 75% of the children living in orphanages are not actually orphans.  Tourists often have good intentions and want to help out orphanages. “Orphan tourism” is probably one of the most ridiculous terms ever created – and it’s sad to know that such a concept even exists that humans actually had to give it a name.  We heard stories upon stories, endless recounts of the negative effects of orphan tourism.  “Hug an Orphan for $10!” This sounds ridiculous, are you serious? And people actually do it – in fact, probably thousands each year – thinking they are helping out the local community. But the money goes to the ring leader in charge of the organization and rarely do the kids ever benefit.  

Unicef is working to reform Cambodian laws to enforce the priority of alternative child care:

1)      If a child cannot be cared for by their natural parents, Kinship care is the best preferred alternative. That is, being cared for by releatives such as a grandparent or an aunt/uncle.

2)      Community care is the next priority, where neighbors care for the child in the same village of the child’s family. Pagoda care is a common form of community care.

3)      Local Foster Care where an alternative family outside of the child’s village but still within Cambodia, cares for the child.

4)      The very last alternative is residential care such as orphanages or group homes. 
Because so many tourists want to see orphans (why? Would you put your own child on display?) so, many business men and women are attracted to this ‘industry’ and are now opening centers and grabbing kids off the streets or out of their homes to live in the center so they can profit off tourists. These kids are kept malnourished so tourists feel bad and give more money. They are kept out of schools and are often abused.  Don’t be part of the problem.  Don’t visit or donate to these ‘orphanages’. Only about 10% are legit and doing good work. I can recommend a few if you are looking to donate.
Currently, international adoption is illegal in Cambodia but a new law allowing international adoptions is going into effect Jan 2, 2013.  Yes Cambodian children are arguably the most adorable in the world, but I still do not support international adoption and taking a child from their home country before they are willing and able to make the choice themselves. 

Child Safe has a terrific marketing campaign that you should definitely read.

We thank everyone who made our visits a wonderful experience. We are indebted to you for your kindness to meet two strangers; for your generous hospitality; your willingness to share stories and friends; and your wonderful hearts as you continue to help Cambodia: Allie, Ken, Doug and Avee, Tanya, Pita, Bob, Jonas, Nari, Michael, Andreas, Anna B, Rithi, Sarah, Anna M, Kimline, Savong, Annie, Ben Severene, Ponheary, Dayvy, Hanah, Sam, the Village Chief of Military School and Wounded Warriors, Megan, Jill and Bill, Anthony, Im Eath, Dara.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Must Reads not on my "Book Club" post

Book Recommendations beyond the Book Club List. 
The date in the ( ) signifies when I read the book as a personal note to myself.

Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay (11/2012)
An amazing tale about the horrifying time of Occupied France and the almost-forgotten Vel' d'Hiv roundup.  Two families forever connected by history and a secret.

Defending Jacob by William Landay (10/2012)
A dad's mission to defend his son who is charged with the murder of another boy from school. Did he do it? Did he not? What do you think?

Loving Frank by Nancy Horan (10/2012)
A story about famous Architect Frank Lloyd Wright's long-time misteress and her fight for Women's Rights in the turn of the century.

Little Bee by Chris Cleave (10/2010)
Follow the story of a young Nigerian Refugee. Easier reading and better storytelling than Verghese's Cutting for Stone.

A Devil in the White City by Erik Larson (3/2012)
Two leading male characters, each with very separate agendas and both successful at accomplishing the unimaginable.  Burnham and Holms share an intertwined journey in Chicago during the infamous World's Fair.

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts (2/2010)
Don't be intimidated by the almost 1000 page book. Most of it moves quickly through the complex storyline, vivid characters and emotions of the main character with a tough exterior and gentle heart.

The Other Boleyn Girl (4/2006)
A captivating historical fiction about the women in King Henry VIII's opulent life.

Books that are so much better than the movies...

The Help by Katheryn Sockett (10/2010)

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen (12/2008)

Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins (4/2012)
Just do it. If anything, to know part of pop culture.  This is the fantastical version of reality TV show, Survivor, except about kids and people actually get killed. The sociology is very much the same.

The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Neffenegger (12/2008)

Books that I've read to keep busy but aren't necessarily page-turners or must-read's.

The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards (12/2008)
Fraternal twins are born, a healthy boy and a girl with downs syndrom. The father chooses to keep one child without telling the truth about the loss of the other.

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri (3/2009)
The story of a semi-ordinary Bengali immigrant.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Chicago's Gluten-Free Restaurant Guide

I've been collecting a list of Gluten-Free-Friendly restaurants in Chicago over the past 5 years. The good news is that this list is growing! Leave me a comment if you know any others that should be added to the list!


It’s a fully Gluten Free Restaurant that opened in 2012. I haven’t tried it yet but hope to soon!
2873 N Broadway
Chicago, IL 60657

Italian is the most challenging food to find good Gluten-Free alternatives for. Below is a listing of several options!

Ranalli’s of Andersonville
Gluten Free Pizza, Pastas, Desserts and even Appetizer Breads!
1512 W Berwyn
Chicago, IL 60640

Gluten Free Pizza’s, brownies and beers

   Three Locations:
   Lincoln Park
   645 North Ave

   Logan Square
   2475 N. Milwaukee

   1911 Cherry

RPM Italian
Ask for the gluten-free noodles
52 W Illinois

Piccolo Sogno
Ask for the gluten free noodles
464 North Halsted Street
Chicago, IL

Piccolo Sogno Due
340 North Clark Street

Homemade Pizza Co
Offer’s a 10” gluten-free pizza crust

Buckwheat Pancakes – weekend only

   Two Locations:
   West Loop
   1001 W Washington Blvd

   3300 N Lincoln Ave

Rose’s Wheatfree Bakery and Café
2901 Central Street
Evanston, IL 60201

Swirlz Cupcakes
Best gluten-free cupcakes with a variety of flavors that change every day
705 West Belden Avenue
Chicago, IL 60614

Sprinkles Cupcakes
Only a Red Velvet every day
50 East Walton Street
Chicago, IL 60611

Cookie Bar
A few gluten free cookie options
2475 North Lincoln Ave
Chicago, IL 60614

Cassava treats, empanadas, soups
3338 N Clark Street
Chicago, IL 60657

Café Ba Ba Reeba
2024 North Halsted Street
Chicago, IL 60614

Girl and the Goat
809 West Randolph Street
Chicago, IL 60607

Chicago Diner
3411 N Halsted Street

159 W Erie Street

PF Chang’s
530 N Wabash Ave

Ben Pao’s Chinese Restaurant
52 W. Illinois Street

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Book Club Updates

MIA on Book Club Posts... but here were our last few books in case you're looking for reading recommendations!

#1 Oct 2010: A Scattered Life by Karen McQuestion
Would not recommend

#2 Nov 2010: The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrel

#3 Jan 2011: Those who Save Us by Jenna Bloom
The story from a German family during World War II.

#4 Feb 2011: Love Story by Eric Segal
Would not recommend

#5 Mar 2011 A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel
Would not recommend

#6 April 2011 ROOM by Emma Donoghue A sad story of a woman kept in captivity and her child's escape.
Highly Recommend

#6 May 2011 Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson more like 3 cups of deceit - the 'story' of a man who wants to promote world peace by providing education to underprivileged communities.
Would not recommend

#7 June 2011 Bossypants by Tina Fey so hilarious, it's worth the quick-light read
Highly Recommend

#8 July 2011: Signs of Life by Natalie Taylor  Mary Ellen's friend wrote this and it's totally worth reading! An honest diary of one woman's life as she lost her husband while pregnant with their first child. Makes you appreciate life, love and family.

#9 Aug 2011: Scandalous Women by Elizabeth Mahon  Short stories, easy reads, but not particularly a can't-put-it-down-page-turner.
Would not recommend

#10 Sept 2011: A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini Loved Kite Runner, Loved this one too
Highly Recommend

#11 Oct 2011: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon oops, didn't read this one!
Didn't Read

#12 Nov 2011: Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot An interesting story of a medical breakthrough due to one woman's cancer cells.

#13 Jan 2012: UNBROKEN, by Laura Hillenbrand
Didn't Read

#14 Feb 2012: Love in the time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez boring
Would not recommend

#15 Mar 2012: Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Socilogist Takes to the Streets by Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh

#16 Apr 2012: Before I Go to Sleep by S. J. Watson The pages keep turning as you wonder if the next day will be the one of revealation. An incredible revelation about 3/4ths of the way through.
Highly Recommend

#17 May 2012: The Paris Wife by Paula McLain I found myself incredibly curious about the life of Ernest Hemmingway after this story of his first wife.
Highly Recommend

#18 June 2012: Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese Takes awhile to get into, but the second half of the book moves quickly once you've started deeply caring for the twins, Marion and Shiva.

#19 July 2012: 50 Shades of Gray Trilogy

#20 Sept 2012: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern The mythical story of a circus and two children bonded forever in a game where there are no rules.
Highly Recommend

#21 Oct 2012: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn A disturbing fictional story of a married couple bonded together by the psychotic wife.
Highly Recommend

#22 Dec 2012: Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer

Friday, November 4, 2011

49 hours in Haiti

Ernie & I recently spent a long weekend in Haiti.  Having been around the world, I can safely say that Haiti is unlike any place I've ever seen in the world.  Although there is extreme poverty everywhere you look, there are thousands of helping hands from around the world.

My good friend Tony from Kellogg, aka "Travel Buddy" coined during our jaunt around southern Africa, is one of the many who are pitching in.  He has spent 44 weeks down in Haiti working to provide access to clean water for those in the Central Plateau. 

We met a kind woman on the plane (who recognized us from TV) that was traveling down to work in an Orphanage/School about an hour from the city.  A Colorado native, she spends much of her time in Haiti educating and caring for children orphaned by the earthquake.  We learned that there are makeshift-orphanages that solicit foreign donations, yet are not really an orphanage. They recruit neighborhood kids to pretend to be orphans while donors visit to check in on their investment.  She cautioned us to check into any orphanages we might donate to.

Tony picked us up in the Port-Au-Prince airport on Friday morning.  We had a jam packed day of meeting Tony's professional network. The fastest (but not safest) form of transport was mototaxi.  We traveled in a gang of mototaxis from one meeting to another and it was quite the experience! I had never been on a motorcycle before but I trusted Tony's judgement on this one.

Saturday morning was spent with 17 kids at a local orphanage where Ernie played soccer with the kids, they sang and jumped rope.  The soccer ball was so old and deflated, the ropes were several pieces of twine knotted together.  Kids ages 4-14 ran around in knock-off Crocs in the most vibrant colors worn to the sole. We often take for granted how easy it is to stop by the local sports store and buy a new soccer ball or new toys, while these children really test the longevity of material goods because they have very limited access to them.  I wish we had brought toys to donate, rather than cases of cookies and candy, although I'm sure they are grateful for anything we could have brought.

In the afternoon, we took a private "tap tap" (minivan) on a driving tour of downtown.  The palace was crushed and crumbled, while the once beautiful green park is now covered in a massive tent city. Approximately 600 thousand people live in tents. It's been almost two years since the damaging earthquake, yet there is still vast reminders of the destruction.  Roads are torn up with potholes every few feet, trash is carlessly littered everwhere and there's no goverment trash removal, houses with three walls and families still living inside.  Devestation was everywhere, except on the people's faces. Haitians seem content, happy and faithful to their religion. 

Off we were to the southern coastal city of Jacmel.  A tourism company owner from last night's book club encouraged us to go. She said "it's like New Orleans with the Creole architecture."  It may be Creole but there was little to no resemblance to New Orleans.  We stopped at a lovely hotel for a lobster lunch. "The view was better than the lobster," Tony accurately remarks.  The remainder of the day was spent with ex-pats on the beach eating fresh oysters and lobster (again) over lively conversation.

We met such a wide array of people, and thank them for their generosity.  Meetings with leaders included  the Haitian Tourism Board, American Chamber of Commerce, Red Cross, Cross International (thanks for housing us!), Save the Children, Caribbean Harvest Foundation, We Advance (a women and children's empowerment organization), World Vision, Rotary and perhaps the most inspirational of all - the Peace Dividend Trust.  There's somewhere between 2,900-5,000 Non-Profits making a social impact.

Despite all this help, there's still no infrastructure for some of the basics like education, electricty, clean water or sanitation.  I worry about the level of dependency the country has on foreign aid.  A new political leader was recently elected so time will tell if the significant changes needed will come to fruition.

The Amazing Race

Hello Again!

Sorry for the posting hiatus. I'm not sure that anyone will even see this post since it's been so long since I've updated the blog.  As you may or may not have heard, Ernie and I recently raced around the world on Season 19 of the Amazing Race!  Check out some of the fun articles that were posted during the cast announcement:

Entertainment Weekly got the exclusive annoucement!

I never thought we'd ever be in People Magazine. Not only once, but twice!

Thanks to some local support, you can read about us in the Chicago Sun Times and the Red Eye Chicago.

Perhaps the true mark of "making it", we got a small shout out in The Soup!